Thursday, March 21, 2013

Best One Yet: Enterprise Illustrates An Ability To Do A Quality Episode When Nothing Happens With “Breaking The Ice!”

The Good: Moments of character, Jolene Blalock’s best performance yet, No huge continuity issues in the Star Trek franchise
The Bad: Vulcans are still presented in this episode as racist xenophobes, Very little actually happens in the episode
The Basics: The Enterprise crew explores a comet and performs a long-distance classroom presentation that serves as a primer for Enterprise in “Breaking The Ice.”

My dislike of Enterprise is not a blind one; the executive producers – Rick Berman and Brannon Braga – showed a firm commitment to writing the series in a way that they saw fit, without any real care for how the show fit into the rest of the Star Trek pantheon. The inclusion of a Vulcan crewmate on Enterprise was a profoundly bad decision; it invited continuity problems simply because so many of the things Spock went through in Star Trek seemed fresh and new to his crew, so it was clear that Vulcans and humans still had a lot they did not know about one another. But even worse than that, the Vulcans in Enterprise have been written as racists and xenophobes, which is not only illogical, but it is contrary to the essential Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations, which was characterized in Star Trek as an ancient philosophy.

“Breaking The Ice” suffers from yet another Vulcan who is xenophobic and racist against humans, but it also marks the real beginning of the relationship between T’Pol and Trip. Ironically, “Breaking The Ice” is the episode with the least amount of plot development, and yet it packed in more character than most of the prior episodes combined. In fact, this is the first episode where Jolene Blalock masters a completely emotionless performance, with no hint of a smirk or emotion in her eyes.

Enterprise receives a transmission from a fourth grade class on Earth and the crew is excited when it comes out of warp near a giant comet. The comet contains an exceptionally rare element, which Reed and Mayweather decide to mine. While Shuttlepod One lands on the comet and the two officers prepare to mine the element, a Vulcan ship arrives in the same sector. Hailed by the Vulcan Captain Vanik, Archer begins to feel upset by how the Vulcans seem to be looking over the shoulders of the Vulcan crew.

In cleaning out one of the buffers, the command staff discovers a Vulcan transmission that was encrypted for T’Pol. When Hoshi decrypts the transmission, Trip Tucker learns that she is working to delay an arranged marriage on Vulcan. When T’Pol confides in Tucker, he argues in favor of free will, which puts the Vulcan science officer in a moral quandary. Meanwhile, on the comet, Reed and Mayweather begin mining the rare element, but in blowing the crater out to get access to the element, they shift the trajectory of the comet and put themselves in danger.

“Breaking The Ice” has a wonderfully humorous moment when Reed and Mayweather build a snowman on the surface of the comet and are caught by Archer and the Vulcans. There is a wry sense of humor to the episode that is surprisingly delightful. Scott Bakula, Anthony Montgomery and Dominic Keating pull off the comic elements of the episode exceptionally well.

On the character front, the first real implications of a burgeoning relationship between Trip and T’Pol comes when T’Pol confides in Trip because she trusts him and actually values his opinion. Trip is uncomfortable about having the information about T’Pol’s private life is a nice touch (though it seems odd that he could claim only he read her secret transmission from the Vulcans – after all, how could Hoshi know if she properly decrypted the transmission unless she read part of it after decoding it?). But the character elements – which are focused primarily on Trip and T’Pol – are not limited to just the two of them. Mayweather references how he has only seen snow twice and his sense of humor with building a snowman is a nice touch.

Dr. Phlox is fleshed out as a bit of a blowhard or attention whore in the episode and that works. The whole idea of the long-distance classroom is a nice touch and it gives the crew a chance to perform for the folks back home in a way that is entertaining and seems very realistic. Moreover, it allows viewers to get filled in about the technology and abilities of the crew of Enterprise in this time period in the Star Trek franchise. In fact, “Breaking The Ice” is nice for those who want to be able to leap into Enterprise without the early super-awkward, problematic episodes. It is the first episode of Enterprise I would actually recommend to anyone who loved other series’ in the Star Trek franchise.

The three biggest gaffes in “Breaking The Ice:”
3. The episode opens with Enterprise receiving artwork from the classroom they have the telecommunication with in “Breaking The Ice.” While it is later referred to as a “transmission,” characters go through physical paper artwork sent from the kids. If Enterprise is the fastest ship in the fleet, how did they get the package? Or, if they actually received a transmission, why would a ship with such limited resources actually print out pictures on their limited stock of paper as opposed to filesharing with the crew?!
2. The Vulcans have an amazing sensor net in “The Andorian Incident” (reviewed here!) and were just caught spying on a sector near the one where Enterprise is found in this episode . . . and yet, they missed the biggest comet either the Vulcans or humans have ever seen?! Really?!
1. In “Breaking The Ice,” T’Pol tells Trip about her arranged marriage. The likelihood that that cultural conceit then remained a secret for decades after until “Amok Time” (reviewed here!) is utterly ridiculous.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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